Justin “JTP” Pawlak, driver of the Falken Tire Ford Mustang, leads the Formula Drift Championship after three rounds of the 2011 season. Pawlak defeated teammate and fellow Mustang driver, Vaughn Gittin Jr., in an all-Ford Mustang finale at Palm Beach International Raceway last weekend in Florida. The win for Pawlak was his second of the season and his career. This Week in Ford Racing caught up with Pawlak.
IT WAS YOUR SECOND WIN OF THE SEASON AND YOU HAD TO DEFEAT TWO OF YOUR FALKEN TIRE TEAMMATES (DARREN MCNAMARA AND VAUGHN GITTIN JR.) TO SECURE THE WIN. TALK ABOUT THE BIG WIN AT PALM BEACH RACEWAY. “Winning Round 3 wasn’t an easy task as I had to go up against the No. 3 and No. 4 ranked drivers in the Formula Drift series along with Vaughn Gittin Jr. (who is last year’s champion). It was hard, but fortunately I had a good team behind me in Falken Tire and the fact that they gave me the car to be successful. This Mustang allowed me to take on and defeat some really tough guys.”
THREE ROUNDS INTO THE SEASON YOU HOLD A 36 POINT LEAD OVER SECOND PLACE DARREN MCNAMARA AND 52 OVER DAIJIRO “DAI” YOSHIHARA. THIS IS SHAPING UP TO BE A DREAM SEASON. IS IT EASIER OR TOUGHER KNOWING IT IS YOUR TEAMMATES CHASING YOU FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “We are almost halfway through the season and it is great to be 36 points ahead of second place, but we came into Palm Beach 30 points behind the first place driver who is now in third place. So that can show you anything can happen in one event. I definitely don’t think it will be easy, but I just have to maintain focus and work with my team to make sure that we do everything right and continue in the direction that we are going. You know “JR” [Gittin Jr.] had a spectacular season last year getting on the podium six out of seven events and I am heading in that direction, but unless I stay focused and maintain what we are doing, it could go away.”
NEXT UP IS ROUND 4 AT WALL, NJ IN TWO WEEKS. WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO CARRY THIS MOMENTUM? “For me, it will be important to keep the Mustang together at New Jersey. It is a tough track and the judges are expecting you to be close to the rails on entry. I think I took off about three or four bumpers last year from rubbing the rear bumper on the rail so I’ll try to focus on playing it safe a little bit in practice and make sure we save our Mustang to get a good qualifying run. I can’t take it too cautious because we need a good qualifying run to get the qualifying points, but I still want to maintain some type of safety margin so we can make sure we get through the entire competition. Hopefully, we have a really good result. We did pretty well last year at New Jersey. We lost to Vaughn Gittin in a Top 8 battle which was really close. I made a small mistake and attacked a little too hard at the end. We will try to dial it back a little bit and stay focused on being consistent and hitting my marks and hopefully, things will continue to end up well at the end of the day.”
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE OR IMPROVEMENT FOR YOU THIS YEAR? “If you don’t think you can improve on some aspect of your driving then you are on the downward fall of your career. I am still fairly new to Formula D, having only been in it for four years, and this is my second year with Falken. Last year I was still a firecracker and trying too hard and because of that I beat myself quite a bit. This year I am trying to dial it back and really trying to focus on the job at hand as opposed to just trying to pull out a crazy run. I think my runs are more conservative, but also more mechanical in trying to do the same thing every time. I think that is what has led to me being more successful in the first and third round. That is my major improvement over last year, the focus and not trying to overdrive the Mustang, but driving the car trying to get out of it what it will give me and not do something it isn’t designed to do. That is the reason we have been successful.”